Freedom and the liberal mind
“Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field: / Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air…”
—William Blake in “America: A Prophecy”
By Stacey Warde
Who hasn’t felt the insidious pull and allure of that mysterious man behind the curtain, blowing smoke up everyone’s ass, pretending the world is other than what it is?
Like New Times and the White House and the cowardly hordes that think prisoners should be tortured and U.S. troops should be fighting and dying in Iraq.
What monster of freedom terrorizes these people so that they must provoke more war, more lies and more bloodshed?
The fear that lies in them imagines the slave and the prisoner free at last from their bonds, sprinting into the wild to look up into the heavens to “laugh in the bright air.”
Americans can’t stand the sort of freedom that encourages the liberal mind or liberates the soul, that shows kindness to the tortured prisoner, or to the oppressed laborer, that shows a sense of humanity to the Mexican poor and the migrant farm worker, that values art, music and poetry above maximized profit and malignant greed.
Yet, somehow, we still manage to celebrate our freedoms. Every year we have our Cayucos Fourth of July parade with high school marching bands, neonazis from Fresno with their children in goosestep formation—uniformed, obedient, indifferent—and giant-globe rolling peaceniks, tripping out in the fresh ocean breeze, hoping one day the planet will be saved.
I love my freedom, don’t you?
So did Henry Miller, who loved life and celebrated art and music and poetry, and devoted many hard years to a craft that promised no payment, no reward but his own enjoyment, and the only freedom his muscled imagination.
We try to emulate the sort of freedom that looks beyond the obvious, beyond jingoism, and wants to be humane, and gives voice to prisoners and drifters and poets, to those who wish to explore their craft, no matter what the rewards, and bless us with their poetry and art.
We want to remind our readers this month, when we celebrate our Independence from all tyrannies—political, personal, commercial—that the freedom we seek most begins in the heart. Henry Miller explored that freedom in depth and left us with a legacy of raging against the machine, of finding solace in a quiet place, as in the pages of a journal, or in the rugged stillness of Big Sur, where he could write and reflect, dine with his friends, and commune with the elements.
We visited the Henry Miller Library, not far from Partington Ridge in Big Sur, where Miller lived for many years, and spoke with Magnus Torén, who manages the tiny book space that keeps Miller’s legacy of bold, imaginative freedom alive. See our Rogue of the Month starting on page 14.
Last month we told our women readers that we’d like to hear from them. And guess what? We received notes, letters and stories, some of which we’ve included in this edition.
Rabble rouser Dian Sousa, co-founder of SLO’s Code Pink—the group that hangs two-story bras from parking garages and puts the bodies of its members in harm’s way to protest greed and violence—has a few angry words about the poor treatment of poets in her commentary, “Falling standards of poetic living,” page 5.
No one who writes poetry expects to get rich, not anyone who’s worth reading, but you have to wonder how we’ve fallen so low that we’d take the few scraps we set aside to support the arts and hardworking poets to beef up another advertising budget.
That’s the sort of thing Miller, and most worthy contemporary American artists, have railed against, bemoaning the loss of humanity suffered at the expense of making a dollar. Yet, artists like Miller still celebrate the human spirit rising above the poverty of an American landscape littered with the bones of painters, musicians and mendicants, none of whom were fit for the corporate cubicle.
The ad hacks—who would sell their mother into slavery as easily as promote another ad campaign—could learn something valuable from these human sufferings.
Amber Hudson writes about what it’s like to fly a kite and realize that no one’s in control, not even spin doctors, nor our less evil moms who try to make everything better, and who try to steer their sons away from people and careers that will kill their hopes and destroy their spirits.
She tells the bittersweet experience of her son’s first loss of his own artful creation, a kite crafted with the care and attention to detail that only an 8-year-old can give. Read a mother’s account of her sense of loss and helplessness in the face of something as simple and commercial-free as flying a kite, page 16.
Women present us with all kinds of possibilities as mother, sister, lover or friend or daughter. We’re reminded of this fact by newcomer Elizabeth Jarvis from Oakland. She presents us the lover who slips into her naughty wear only to throw herself into a near-fatal spin in “shotgun romance” on page 23.
We welcome our women contributors.
One of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, who was also a doctor, believed that good art should be fresh and accessible. He hated contrivance and literary devices, as did Henry Miller, that confused or alienated rather than moved, shocked or delighted readers.
Two writers new to these pages create, we believe, with the flair and ease of access that Williams might have wanted in his reading, the kind that would make Henry Miller smile.
Matthew Powers, recently removed from his hometown of Boston, takes us inside the classroom of Theories of Internationalism, a confusing and alienating course in itself, and introduces us to Professor Gladstone, the kind of guy Dr. Williams would have happily given a lethal injection to put him out of his misery.
As the title says, “The Revolution will not be dressed in dockers.” Don’t expect much humanity or art to come from eggheads who know little or nothing about how to live. See page 18.
The flip side, of course, is by failing to learn our letters we turn into brutes, fighting blindly against everything and everyone.
Nonetheless, sometimes it helps to get out of our heads and mix things up by putting on a pair of gloves and going a few rounds with a friend or with the best competition we can find. Sometimes, we just have to fight and get ourselves knocked down to stay sharp and remember what it’s like to really live.
Author Peter Brown Hoffmesiter from Eugene, Oregon, puts us in the ring with Thomas, who remembers what it’s like to really live, what it’s like to go up against the best and take his best shots. He also reminds us of the suffering we endure for failing at our letters, for letting brutish anger gain the upper hand where it is the most dangerous and least artful of our self-expressions. See “The boxer,” page 20.
Maybe what we’re really looking for in this brief passage of ours is to become like royalty, to become like the gods above, or like Ted Williams, the best hitter baseball has ever seen, where swinging a bat was truly an art form. Page 13.
Let’s leave off with grinding at the mill, and turn ourselves to that heavenly place, the liberal mind, our vivid and free-borne imagination, and laugh in the bright air and breathe new life into our art and lives. §
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice.